At last week’s “Towards KAM and ABM – helping fee-earners with relationship management” workshop (presented digitally through the PM Forum) we covered a lot of content in a short amount of time. This post covers the top picks from KAM training workshops – as it includes feedback from a previous KAM workshop to show how thinking has evolved over the past year.
Variation in KAM across firms
Delegates at this session were mostly from law firms – although there was a representative from an economic consultancy. At the previous session we had representatives from accountancy firms too.
At today’s session, the number of key accounts firms selected was around 10-15 although one firm had 80. This compared to previous session where the number of key clients included: 10, 20, 30 and 70. Start small is advised as KAM and ABM is extremely time intensive.
It was interesting that some of the firms represented at this session had not started on a KAM programme at all. Most of the delegates at this session were in general marketing and BD roles rather than focused on key accounts.
Delegates were equally split between their interests in KAM at a firm-wide level and the practicalities of implementing KAM for individual key clients. Only one delegate was involved in the deepest level of KAM support – in direct contact with clients as part of the key client team.
Inevitably, at the previous session many of the challenges and barriers were the result of culture (e.g. client protectionism, risk aversion, reward and recognition based on individual fee targets) – particularly a lack of integration between KAM programmes, other marketing/BD and firm-wide initiatives and performance management and career progression.
Many of the goals for KAM programmes were focused on short-term revenue (not profit) aims and only cross-selling in the longer term. We explored a wide range of different objectives for KAM programmes and stressed the need to be less short-term and internally-focused and more client-centric in ensuring that the programme delivered real value to the clients over the long term.
Achieving engagement and buy-in from fee-earners was considered a major challenge from groups in the break-out sessions. Many were exploring internal communications and training programmes as a result. (There are many posts on this subject as well as a short video on techniques to achieve buy in )
There was inertia – with fee-earners arguing that “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Some reported that fee-earners were fearful of obtaining feedback from clients. The process of collecting feedback through client listening programmes and sharing it was mentioned – particularly with regard to how feedback is communicated.
Only one delegate felt that their firm had a good KAM/ABM system – both with comprehensive data to underpin the planned activities and with mechanisms to prompt and follow up on allocated tasks. Other firms had CRM systems that were good at managing regular client relationships but inadequate at managing the breadth, depth and variety of data, information and insight needed to drive KAM programmes.
Language was considered important at the previous session. Many professionals found the word “account” uncomfortable. Some firms adopted terminology such as “key clients” instead,
But the biggest challenge in both sessions was around resourcing. Both a lack of fee-earner time (and appropriate mind-sets and relationship skills) to drive and implement KAM programme activities and the time available from marketing and BD. M&BD professionals often have to balance running the firm-wide KAM programme, supporting individual key account teams and a host of other marketing/BD responsibilities. And many are not trained in the relevant data, systems, coaching, selling and relationship management techniques required to fully support their fee-earners.
A key challenge identified at both sessions was the inherent conflict between a consistent firm-wide approach and process (centralised) and the need to adapt to the needs of different types of clients (decentralised). We agreed that a “one size fits all” approach isn’t appropriate. Marketing & BD provides processes, tools and templates but key client teams must use what is appropriate for their sector and clients.
Some commented on the need to align and integrate a wide variety of the firm’s systems and processes (e.g. financial, CRM, on-boarding, client communication protocols, billing, performance management etc). Leading law firms are using sophisticated systems such as Intapp to achieve integration across the client life cycle
There was a lot of debate about the variety of criteria used to select key clients – including culture, size, profitability, values/ethics, sectors, competitors, future growth, longevity, succession. We examined a range of other criteria that could be included in the process. A process and criteria to de-select key clients was also mentioned. And alternative programmes where a defend or hold strategy (rather than grow) was appropriate.
KAM training and motivation
There was recognition that successful KAM requires a mind set and culture change as well as behaviour change and that internal communication, reward systems and training had a big part to play. For example, this short video explains the concept of bow tie and diamond relationships.
Most commented on the need to communicate regularly on success stories and positive outcomes to maintain momentum. The trickier task of building reward systems that recognise the huge time input from senior professional for KAM was considered.
Other skills discussed were professionals having a genuine and broad interest in the business and sector of their clients – part of the Trusted Advisor role. Curiosity and the willingness to ask commercial questions were often lacking. It was noted that often professionals were reluctant to pick up the phone and engage with clients. This book explores essential soft skills for lawyers.
Whilst the value of comprehensive and up-to-date key client plans was noted, in practice professionals needed regular, bite-sized actions to focus on implementation on a weekly or monthly basis.
Top picks from KAM training workshops
At the previous session, the key takeaways were:
- Define – at the outset we need to be clear about the aims, benefits, key client criteria, strategies and review process
- Align – firm-wide and client aims must be aligned with aims at a territory, office, practice group and fee-earner level
- Simplify – too much complexity is off-putting to fee-earners. Keep things really simple. Offer actions in bite-sized pieces
- Research – significant research is needed to support planning and implementation
- Consistent – we must be confident that we provide consistent levels of responsive service across different service delivery teams before attempting to cross-sell additional services to clients. Otherwise there is a danger of damaging reputation and satisfaction
- Facilitate – the role of M&BD was to facilitate the processes at a firm wide and client team levels
- Listen – we need to listen to the fee-earners to understand their views and needs and all KAM programmes require a client listening function to ensure we align the KAM process to focus on client needs
- Coach – We can avoid resistance and push-back if we involve fee-earners early in the KAM strategy and planning process, provide appropriate tools and training and coaching support for when they are implementing plans.
- Reinforce – KAM requires a lot of new skills and behaviours and we must recognise and reinforce them so that they become embedded in “how we do things around here”
- Motivation – Recognition and reward systems need to reflect inputs and outputs of KAM and regular progress reviews (supported by strong internal communications) provide ongoing motivation
At this session, the main takeaways were as follows:
- Ensure that information systems enable detailed client analysis and research resources are available to keep everyone up to date
- Ensure that the KAM programme is aligned to the firm’s strategic aims and that the senior management team are advocates for the programme
- Develop and agree criteria for selecting key clients at the outset
- Provide KAM training to equip Client Relationship Partners, Account Managers and all professionals with the necessary skills
- Design a process in conjunction with the client-facing professionals and provide resources and tools to support implementation
- Immerse marketing and business development professionals in both the client and the client’s sector as well the professional teams so that they have a deep knowledge of client needs and potential solutions
- There was also recognition that most firms experienced the same challenges when designing and implementing an effective key client management process
Other KAM articles
Top 10 tips for designing and implementing a KAM programme
KAM Basics – Bowtie and diamond relationships (Video)
Managing key client meetings
Malcolm McDonald on value propositions
The new successful large account management by Miller and Heiman
Seven keys to managing key accounts by Sherman, Sperry and Reece